Danny Boy, if only for a day


With the Luck of the Irish, St. Patrick’s Day 2023 falls on a Friday. Write your own punchline. There could be two- and three-day celebrations. Write your own itinerary. Parades. Toasts. Cabbage. Irish soda bread. Corned beef. Toasts. Shephard’s pie. Toasts. More Toasts. We’re all Irish for a day. Heck, even our Pepper Festival friends in North Hudson, Wisconsin, known for a heavy emphasis on Italian lineage, will tip their derbies and darbies to neighbors claiming the Emerald Isle as their own. Ditto for the Dutch contingent in Baldwin.

Irish for a day. Celtic music will be played as close as New Richmond, Wisconsin or in nearby hamlets of Cylon, Erin Prairie and Emerald. Keep an eye out for musicians carrying flutes, fiddles, tin whistles, Bodhrán drums, and Uilliean pipes – – Ireland’s national bagpipes. Follow them to their gig.

Irish for a day. In saloons, there’s undoubtedly an old timer at the bar disguised as a leprechaun. The red hair may be faded but the freckles are give-aways. Shout out a last name like Moore, Donahue, Ring, Casey, Geraghty, or O’Keefe and watch for a flinch. Out of nowhere, the leprechaun may belt out a version of Danny Boy. The din yields to the soulful tenor. Patrons may join in. Tears flow freely.

Irish for a day. Danny Boy for a day. Danny Boy is Ireland’s ballad. It was written over one hundred years ago – by an English songwriter named Fred Weatherly who’d never been to Ireland. The product was so-so. Weatherly’s sister in-law, an Irish immigrant, introduced him to the melody of The Londonderry Aire, an old Irish tune. Weatherly put his Danny Boy words to Londonderry’s melody and the rest is history.

The words are haunting:
O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside
The summer’s gone and all the roses falling
’Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
’Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
O Danny boy, O Danny boy, I love you so

Many interpret Danny Boy as a message from a parent to a son, wishing a safe return from war or distant travels, perhaps to America. Danny’s return is uncertain. The final line, ‘And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!’ brings a sense of hope of meeting again, one way or another.

Danny Boy has been universally performed, including by Sinéad O’Connor, Eric Clapton, Celtic Woman, and yes, Johnny Cash, the son of an Arkansas cotton farmer. It was played at the funerals of President John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, and numerous Irish-American police and firefighters, who died following the September 11 attacks in 2001. Twenty plus years ago, the Diocese in Providence, Rhode Island banned Danny Boy and other secular songs from funeral Masses. To that, retired police officer Charlie McKenna wrote, “I want ‘Danny Boy’ sung at my funeral Mass and if it isn’t, I’m going to get up and walk out.”

Irish for a day. There’ll be plenty of revelry in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley on March 17th. A Public Service Announcement is offered: Pace yourself. And when the tenor leprechaun hits the high notes of Danny Boy, it’ll be a moment to remember. Erin go Bragh – Ireland Forever